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2 local fires wreak $110K in damage

2 local fires wreak $110K in damage

2 local fires wreak $110K in damage
Billings Fire Department firefighters pick up hoses after battling a fire that severely damaged a mobile home at 542 Riverside Drive early Saturday.

Gazette Staff

Two accidental fires Saturday gutted one house and damaged another, according to the Billings Fire Department.

Firefighters responded to the first blaze, at 542 Riverside Road, at about 4 a.m. The home is owned by Wanda Sjostrom, a single mother of three sons.

The fire, classified as accidental, apparently was started by unattended, lit candles, according to information released by Deputy Fire Marshal David Gilbert. The home was unoccupied at the time of the fire, Gilbert said, and there were no injuries.

Sjostrom and her sons apparently left the home briefly to look for their dog. When they returned, they found fire crews working on putting out the blaze.

The blaze caused major fire, heat and smoke damage to the home, Gilbert said. Damage was estimated at $100,000 for the contents and property, and the home was insured, Gilbert said.

Sjostrom and her sons are staying with friends.

A second fire occurred just after 8:30 a.m. at 412 S. 34th St. According to information from Gilbert, the blaze caused moderate damage to the living room walls and ceiling.

Fire crews were able to keep the fire contained to the wall area of the living room and attic area, Gilbert said. The home was occupied at the time of the fire, he said, but no injuries were reported.

Damage was estimated at $10,000 for the contents and property. Gilbert said he didn't know whether the property was insured. The Red Cross was providing lodging for the family.

The cause of the fire has been classified as accidental. Gilbert said it appeared the source of the fire was electrical wiring in the wall.

The children of the home saw an orange glow in a ceiling seam and notified their mother, who got the family out of the house and called 911, Gilbert said.

Firefighters battled both blazes in bitter-cold weather, which is tough on both crews and equipment, Battalion Chief Budge Parker said.

The below-freezing temperatures are an added stress on the already exhausting job of fighting fire, Parker said.

"It comes down to just making sure those guys stay as comfortable as we can make them and trying to get them out of the elements as quickly as we can," Parker said. "We rotate crews around and make sure they're not exposed to the elements any more than they have to be.

"The longer you're operating, it seems to compound itself," he said. "It's important to get those crews rotated out, back to the stations and get them and the equipment warmed up."

The cold can also lead to equipment freezing up, including critical breathing gear and even gas-powered machinery.

"If anything is going to break, it's going to break during cold weather, it seems," Parker said. "We do check our equipment daily, but this cold weather means being a little more vigilant and making sure that when the time comes, the people and equipment get there safely and we can get our job done."


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